Aoashi kicks off to a great start

I’m always in the mood for a sports anime, especially after having a near-on 10 year obsession with Kuroko’s Basketball. After the feel-good Salaryman’s Club completely stole my heart this past season, it looks like 2022’s sports anime offerings will not be slowing down anytime soon, as the soccer-centric Aoashi has got off to a great start.

For context, I’m currently an anime-only viewer of Aoashi. The serialised manga series is still ongoing, but the anime adaptation has me looking forward to each and every episode that is coming out. We’re only at episode 4 at the time of writing, and I’m already aligned with its cast, passionate about seeing its main character grow from strength to strength, and excited to see how the main football team’s dynamic will continue to expand and develop. I’m loving the show so far, and excited to see what the future holds.

Realism in character motivations, football action, and drama

Aoashi

Aoashi is extremely heartfelt at its core. Main character Ashito wants to make his brother Shun and his mother Noriko proud, as he comes from a working class background. Noriko has only ever been able to buy him one pair of cleats, and Shun has a part-time job that he selflessly works in order to help Ashito take his first steps into pursuing a career in football.

We see in the first episode of Aoashi that Ashito is very driven by his family; his hot-headedness becomes an outburst at a rival goalkeeper not because the boy badmouthed him, but because he spoke poorly about his mother Noriko.

This incident quickly sets up Ashito’s character as both flawed and likeable. He has the best of intentions, but his immaturity undermines it. He has a lot of growing to do, so thankfully he has people looking out for him, able to see his underlying potential and willing to kickstart his personal journey.

Youth team coach Tatsuya Fukuda is my favourite character so far, helped enormously by the fact he’s voiced by Chikahiro Kobayashi, best known for his roles as Legoshi in BEASTARS and Bruno in Burn the Witch. It was love at first listen, but the context of his character sealed the deal for me.

Fukuda has his own fully realised goals and ideas for his own future. These are quickly laid out for the audience to remember and consider, making him one of the only adults in the show to have true depth. It’s quite unlike any other sports anime I’ve seen; most other shows focus on the team, but Aoashi’s willingness to explore an adult coach character’s own journey is refreshing and appealing. It’s also always a highlight to see him getting visibly excited at seeing promising football plays unfolding before his eyes.

But back to Ashito who is, as we’ve seen already, a flawed main character. He’s flawed, selfish, self-centred and egotistical, and has a lot to learn about football; while he has a natural sense of field awareness, up until now he’s just done what he feels is right rather than putting real thought into his plays, tactics and strategies.

He’s fully conscious of his own bad habits, but his temperament has a tendency to get the best of him at the most inconvenient times. This gives him plenty of room to grow as he learns how to be an effective part of a team and control his worst tendencies, and his teammates learn that the do not have to rely solely on him for victory. It’s all about synergy and mutual understanding — something which is new to Ashito.

Aoashi is a realistic sports anime in the vein of Salaryman’s Club as opposed to the popular, exaggerated stories seen in series like Captain Tsubasa and Inazuma Eleven. It’s grounded in its realistic setting, humanly flawed characters and dramas, and relatable conflicts and storylines.

For example, while pursuing a career in football, it becomes apparent that Ashito would need to relocate away from his family if he wanted to be accepted into the Tokyo youth team. He would have to learn how to cope without his relatives at a young and unprepared age.

There’s also a classist element to the story as Ashito continues to be undermined for his social standing — primarily by a single character known as Nagisa Akutsu. This adds an interesting dose of tension to the matches we’ve seen so far; an antagonist character who is a senior player in the same school certainly keeps provides some energy to the show, but it’s worth emphasising that the show, for the most part, remains infectiously wholesome through its core family dynamic.

Ashito’s mother Noriko is a near-on tsundere, failing to verbally support him honestly and affectionately and leaving brother Shun to pick up the slack. Their family dynamic may be strained due to their economic struggles and Noriko’s attempts to avoid putting pressure on Ashito, but it’s clear they support and cherish one another. I look forward to seeing Noriko finally learning to communicate more openly with Ashito; a heartwarming scene in episode 4 suggested that this might be coming sooner rather than later.

Familiar territory but with the potential to be something truly special

Aoashi

The show has a Haikyuu!-inspired feel to it overall, especially in its visuals and characters. There is a prevalent bird motif to represent Ashito and his perceptive skills; he is of a much smaller build compared to all the other characters to back up the show’s “underdog” premise; and Ashito is simply driven by sheer passion for the prospect of playing the sport professionally.

While the show’s music and animation is not anything particularly special or worth mentioning any further, its dialogue, themes and sheer relatability is what makes Aoashi such a recommended watch even now at a mere 4 episodes. Pretty much anyone can enjoy it since it’s such an easy watch, with impactful football playing alongside realistic drama. There are plenty of references to real sports figures for comedic effect, terminology being used for educational purposes for someone unfamiliar to the sport, and some really great sequences that solidify how tense and high-stakes things will get in future. It was nail-biting and had my heart soaring.

The supporting characters we have seen the most so far are excitingly diverse and distinct from one another, so it will be a pleasure to get to know them better and discover their hidden depths. Eisaku Ootomo, for example, is a tiny, friendly teammate, whose warm personality makes it easy to communicate and build camaraderie with him. Rather endearingly, he’s always a nervous wreck before every match, but once the kick-off happens, all his focus and energy goes into doing his very best with no regrets left behind. He loves football, and the adrenaline helps him forget how anxious he really is.

At the other end of the spectrum we have Soichirou Tachibana, a serious, stoic and naturally gifted footballer with an obvious talent for the sport. He is as driven and motivated as Ashito — in his case, out of a desire not to let down his home team.

Then we have Fukuda’s sister-in-law Hana Ichijou, a fan of the sport and a sideline cheerleader for Ashito, quickly warming up to him, his effort and mentality. She looks like being a potential love interest, and already at this early point in the show is positively influencing Ashito with her encouraging actions and helpful words.

The sheer excitement for what’s yet to come

After just four episodes at the time of writing, Aoashi is already showing a lot of potential with its exciting story development, memorable sporting moments, heartfelt characters and dynamics, and yet another important reminder that doing your best is always good enough. I’m eagerly awaiting the first appearance of other characters such as pompadour character Keiji Togashi, voiced by Taku Yashiro — previously heard as Raul in Cupid Parasite and Vulcan in Fire Force.

So without further ado, you should catch up with the show on Crunchyroll right now, then let me know how right or wrong I am!

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